From Dean Nordt
It is often difficult for us to fully comprehend what we are accomplishing (or not accomplishing) at any one moment. That’s why it’s a useful exercise to step back, take a deep breath and look at our past. Looking back at the College of Arts & Sciences is what we have done in the cover story of this issue of Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine.
More specifically, we look at what we have accomplished over the past decade as Baylor University’s largest academic unit — both to advance Arts & Sciences and to contribute to the greater good of the University. All of these accomplishments have been the product of a lot of hard work by many very good people in the College, including our staff, department chairs, faculty members, administrators and, last but not least, our excellent students.
I believe that one of the advantages of being a dean for a long period of time is experiencing a lot of change, and in the case of the College of Arts & Sciences, I think that the longevity we have enjoyed among our dean and associate deans has been beneficial. When I started at Baylor in 1996, the University was beginning to define what it means to be a Christian research institution — a rare commodity in higher education. We have succeeded in many ways in that regard, but it wasn’t always easy. It took resources, buildings, equipment, additional faculty and staff, and a change in our academic culture. One of those cultural changes has been integrating research in ways that not only preserved Baylor’s long tradition of excellence in teaching but enhanced that excellence.
Other changes over the past decade have helped the College in important ways. We have had tremendous success with fundraising (thank you, readers!), something that is essential to the flourishing of a private institution. We have redesigned the Arts & Sciences core curriculum to make it more intentional for our students. We have built new buildings and renovated old ones (including the long-awaited renovation of the Tidwell Bible Building), and we have grown both our undergraduate and graduate student populations. We have new departments, new majors and more academic advisors, and we provide many more services to our students than we did a decade ago.
We have given our full support to Baylor’s strategic plans spanning the past 10 years or more — Baylor 2012, the strategic vision Pro Futuris and our current strategic plan Illuminate — and they have all advanced the University in important ways. In response to these plans, the College of Arts & Sciences created its first formal strategic plan, A&Spire, which we recently completed. As the University continues to advance, we have begun implementing a new Arts & Sciences plan called A&Spire to Illuminate.
All of these successes in Arts & Sciences have presented an equal number of challenges. But as we leave 2020 behind us, Baylor remains in a very strong position moving forward, despite the state of the economy, pandemics and whatever else could be challenging for higher education. It is a blessing indeed to be at Baylor, and we have learned that no matter what happens, nothing will stop us from achieving our goal of becoming a nationally recognized Christian research university with excellence in teaching and a strong culture of service. I believe there is nothing else like this combination among American universities.
The light is growing closer at the end of the tunnel as COVID-19 will soon pass into our collective memories, and we will reflect back — What on earth just happened? The pandemic has changed both higher education and Baylor in profound ways. In some ways those changes have been for the better, as crisis has led to creativity and the unshackling of former routines that we followed only because that was the way things had always been done. We will report back to you in more detail on this important subject in our fall magazine.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Baylor Arts & Sciences, as we have returned to our traditional print version after one issue in an online-only format. We try our best to cover a variety of topics that will be of interest to you, and we always welcome your feedback.